What is the dark web?
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office is asking a judge to postpone an upcoming murder-for-hire trial because one of its main witnesses — a supposed expert on the “dark web” — can’t get into the U.S. to testify.
Chris Monteiro, who claims to be a cyber crime, dark web, and internet security researcher, is slated to testify for the prosecution in the upcoming criminal trial of Beau Brigham, who is accused of trying to use the dark web to hire a hitman to kill his stepmother.
Brigham, of Riverside, faces a single felony charge of solicitation of murder, which carries up to nine years in state prison, according to the complaint. His alleged plot unraveled after Monteiro discovered his attempt on the web and notified the media, according to a CBS segment on the case.
In a motion filed Monday, Deputy District Attorney Michael Frye called Monteiro a “critical” witness for the prosecution, and stated that Monteiro was “encountering legal issues” in his attempt to obtain a travel visa to testify in the trial, which is currently scheduled to begin jury selection May 28.
Superior Court Judge Jesse Marino has placed a gag order on the case, precluding either the DA’s Office or Brigham’s defense attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, from commenting.
As such, the District Attorney’s Office has not responded to questions about Monteiro’s testimony, what it will cost taxpayers, and what “legal issues” are involved.
“On May 16, 2019, I was advised by Christopher Monteiro, a critical witness for the People, that he was encountering legal issues in his attempt to obtain a travel visa from the United Kingdom to the United States,” Frye wrote. “I anticipate that this matter will be resolved, but not in time for Mr. Monteiro to attend trial in this matter.”
Marino — who previously stated in court he had concerns about the “genesis of the case” involving a “crusading hacker” from London — is scheduled to rule on Tuesday whether the trial will be postponed to June 11.
He has not responded to several requests from The Tribune for comment, and an email account previously addressed to him was no longer active as of Monday morning.
In September, CBS News’ “48 Hours” featured the case, including how Monteiro forwarded alleged proof to the TV network, which in turn alerted local authorities.
The alleged victim in the case, Brigham’s stepmother, is a resident of San Luis Obispo.
Brigham, 33, claims to have serious medical problems and told CBS News that he didn’t remember accessing the murder-for-hire website on the dark web, though he told the reporter that “there was only one way to get anyone’s f------ attention and to do something stupid on a f------ site was the only way.”
According to the CBS segment, Brigham and his stepmother became estranged following the death of his father, a Saratoga bar and nightclub owner, in 2011. Beau Brigham and his older brother, Brandon, sued their stepmother in 2015, CBS News says, winning a “significant judgment” against her.
But according to testimony presented at a preliminary hearing in October, Beau Brigham was angry at his stepmother for not financially supporting him as he struggled with his health issues.
“She left her own son to f------ die for four years. Who does that?” Brigham told CBS News’ Peter Van Sant in an interview conducted Sept. 24 at San Luis Obispo County Jail.
At the preliminary hearing, a San Luis Obispo detective testified that she spoke to the alleged victim, who said that she was in debt to the Brigham brothers for more than $1 million and that “she’d be paying the lawsuit and attorneys’ fees for the rest of her life.” However, if she were dead, the detective testified the woman told her, the brothers would immediately receive dividends from a trust account.
John Lehr, a forensic specialist for the San Luis Obispo Police Department, testified that the “dark web” is different from the “surface” or “light web” most everyone uses, and requires special software, browsers and specific information to access, as content is not indexed in mainstream search engines such as Google.
Lehr testified that he examined cellphones belonging to Beau Brigham and found a history of saved websites related to hiring “Chechen hitmen.”
Also found on his iPhone’s Notes application, Lehr said, were two story ideas for a Coen Brothers-style movie “of a person who is ill who hires a hitman to get money for treatment.”
Neal Clayton, a District Attorney’s Office investigator in the case, also testified that Brigham’s alleged communication with the murder-for-hire website was brought to the attention of CBS by Monteiro, who Clayton described as “an informant for CBS” based in southeast London.
According to Clayton, Monteiro went to the national press because he did not trust law enforcement would take action. Clayton said he spoke with Monteiro, who said he has been trying to prove that the murder-for-hire sites were scams; they reportedly take people’s money but “never actually follow through with services,” Clayton testified.
“He did not think it was proper ... that these people would take the money without doing it,” Clayton said. “Second, he thought people who are going to these sites are inherently dangerous.”
Brigham remains in San Luis Obispo County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.